The divide within the Congress over the Narendra Modi government conferring Padma Bhushan on Ghulam Nabi Azad was out in the open on Wednesday, with former Union Minister Kapil Sibal claiming that it is ironic that the Congress does not need Mr Azad’s services but the nation recognises his contributions to public life.
The Congress officially maintained a careful silence on the issue but many from the Congress’ group of 23 leaders [G-23] – the group that wrote to party chief Sonia Gandhi in 2020, seeking internal reforms – made a political point by welcoming the move on social media platforms.
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A senior Congress general secretary, however, claimed that the former Leader of the Opposition (LoP) in the Rajya Sabha “practically in the other camp” and recalled how the Prime Minister had got emotional while speaking at Mr. Azad’s retirement as the LoP.
Many of the G-23 members may not be fully aware of the ruling party’s political calculation with regard to Mr Azad, who had also served as Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) Chief Minister, the leader cited above added.
In fact, Mr. Azad was forced to issue a “clarification” after a social media buzz that he had removed all references to Congress from his Twitter bio after getting the Padma award.
“Some mischievous propaganda being circulated by some people to create confusion. Nothing has been removed or added to my twitter profile.The profile is as it was earlier,” Mr. Azad said on Tuesday night.
The debate around the issue was triggered by a cryptic tweet from Congress’ chief whip in the Rajya Sabha, Jairam Ramesh, who made a veiled attack on his former Rajya Sabha colleague.
Reacting to the news that former West Bengal Chief Minister and CPI(M) leader Buddhadeb Bhattcharjee had refused to accept the Padma Bhushan conferred on him, Mr. Ramesh, on Tuesday, tweeted,“ Right thing to do. He wants to be Azad [free] not Ghulam [slave]”.
Rallying around Mr Azad, Lok Sabha members Manish Tewari, Shashi Tharoor, former Haryana Chief Minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda, Congress’ deputy leader in the Rajya Sabha Anand Sharma, former Congress MP Raj Babbar were among those who took two twitter to congratulate him.
“Ghulam Nabi Azad conferred Padam Bhushan. Congratulations bhaijan. Ironic that the Congress doesn’t need his services when the nation recognises his contributions to public life,” tweeted Mr. Sibal, known to be a fierce critic of the Modi government.
While Mr. Sharma said that the recognition was for Mr. Azad’s “lifelong contribution to public service and Parliamentary democracy,” Mr. Tharoor tweeted to say that it is good to be recognized for one’s public service “even by a government of the other side”.
Former Law Minister Ashwani Kumar, who is not part of the G-23, also came out in support of Mr Azad and slammed Mr Ramesh.
“Congress Rajya Sabha Whip’s criticism of Ghulam Nabi Azadfor receiving the Padma award is nothing less than a shameful innuendo intended to rob both the Award and its recepient of the deserved dignity .Such a mind set does not to justice to the dignitarian ethos of the Congress,”Mr Kumar said.
But the debate wasn’t restricted only only to the current Congress members as former party leaders also joined in.
Former Congress leader and a Rajya Sabha member from Trinamool Congress (TMC) now, Sushmita Dev, reminded Mr Ramesh about the national awards being given to other Congress stalwarts by the Modi government.
“Padma bhushan for @tarun_gogoi & Bharat Ratna for @CitiznMukherjee - does it make them Ghulams ?”asked Ms Dev in response to Mr Ramesh’s tweet.
“I’ve known @ghulamnazad Ji for many years. This is a well-deserved recognition for the distinguished politician, gentleman & a staunch nationalist. My gratitude to Adarniya PM Shri @narendramodi ji for the decision to confer Padma Bhushan on Azad ji,”commented Assam Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma, a former Congress leader who joined the BJP in 2016, on Mr. Sibal’s tweet.